Answering That Abortion Question

Once again a pro-life candidate has found himself in a media firestorm for his answer to a question about abortion.  Though it may be too late for this election go-around, how about a little pastoral help from Jesus on how to answer it?

Richard Mourdock, running for U.S. Senate here in Indiana, was asked about abortion at a debate last week.  Though the specific case of conception taking place from a rape was not part of the question, Mourdock, perhaps anticipating that and wanting to clarify his position, answered in part, “Life is a gift from God…and even when life begins in that horrible situation of rape, that it is something that God intended to happen.”  That last phrase was understood by some and certainly twisted by others to portray Mourdock as indicating he believed rape met with divine approval. Though I, as others, do not believe that was the intent of his remark, this one sentence could do irreparable damage to his campaign.  Mourdock himself recognized the remark was unfortunately stated, saying about it as he tries to move on that “you cannot put toothpaste back in the tube.”

So how should pro-lifers answer the question, “Do you believe abortion should be allowed in the case of rape or incest?” Three short principles from our Lord’s life can guide us.

First, we should let that question come to us rather than desiring to answer it.  We must recognize this question is designed in part to trap the one being questioned.  If you are consistently pro-life, believe an unborn child is a human being, and thus that life should be protected regardless of the manner of conception, then this question is slated to put you into a dilemma.  If you say abortion should be allowed in these cases, you are viewed as being inconsistent with your principles and open the door to legalized abortion.  If you say it should not be allowed, you will appear callous toward those suffering.

Let us learn from Jesus.  He  did not always address topics by His own initiative.  We know some truths, such as there is no marriage in heaven (Matthew 22:23-33) or His views on taxation (Matthew 22:15-22), only because men trying to trap Him asked Him questions on those subjects.  Interestingly, people hearing Jesus answer those questions at the appropriate time ended up marveling over His answers.  How we need to pray for His wisdom!  The proverbial question “Did you stop beating your wife?” comes to mind here.  If someone starts answering that question before it’s asked, automatically suspicion arises.  That’s in part what happened to Mr. Mourdock.  This particular aspect of the abortion question had not been raised by the debate moderator.  So wait to answer it by waiting to be asked the question first.

Secondly and simply, prepare to answer this question.  Believers cannot possibly answer every question they are asked, but because of our beliefs and involvement in certain causes we should know there are particular questions we can count on being asked. We are called to be prepared always to give an account for the hope that is in us (I Peter 3:15).  Every believer will be asked basic questions such as “Why do you believe the Bible is God’s Word?” or “How could a loving God send people to hell?’ or some version of “Are there not more ways than one to get to heaven?”  Every Reformed Christian will be asked “What does reformed mean?”  Every pastor will be asked questions about the distinctive practices of his church.  Every home schooling parent knows they will be asked, “What about your kid’s socialization?” (By the way, I love answering that question with “My children’s socialization is about to kill me!” as I transport them yet again to some event).  And any pro-life activist knows they will be asked the question above.

When we look at our Lord’s life and His wisdom in interacting with people, it is easy to shrug our shoulders and say, “Well, of course He answered well.  He is God, after all.”  Yet remember the Bible tells us that, amazingly, our Lord grew in wisdom and stature (Luke 2:52).  As a man like us, Jesus learned obedience through the things He suffered (Hebrews 5:8), including answering foolish or even wicked questions.  In all those times the gospels tell us He had withdrawn to pray, what was He praying for His disciples and Himself when He prayed, “Lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil”?  Was He not praying, at least in part, for wisdom in how to navigate through the evil designs of His enemies?  And does not His life reveal that His prayerful study of Scripture was preparation for how to answer the questions of men, demons, and the devil himself?

Finally, answer this question with a clarifying question of your own.  Jesus teaches us in dealing with people that we do not always have to answer their questions as they are phrased.  He would not always play by the rules of the Pharisees’ little games.  After cleansing the temple, He was asked by the rulers, “By what authority are you doing these things, and who gave you this authority?”  Notice the Bible says “Jesus answered them, ‘I also will ask you one question, and if you tell me the answer, then I also will tell you by what authority I do these things” (see Matthew 21:23-27). He answered with a question of His own.  Then when they would not answer the question He asked, Jesus told them He would not answer their question.

Similarly, I think we should respond with our own question or two when asked “Do you believe abortion should be allowed in the case of rape or incest?”  Why not respectfully say something along these lines, “If rape or incest leads to a pregnancy, then this has resulted in not only one victim, the woman who was raped, but two in the child that was conceived.  Are you asking me by your question if this innocent child should be put to death for the vile act of the rapist?”

Certainly that is not all that needs to be said, but it would be a good place to start.

Update: Thanks to reader Jeff Kessler’s tip, here’s a powerful video of children of rape victims expressing thanksgiving for Mr. Mourdock’s views.


  1. Ben Manring November 1, 2012 at 9:49 am #

    Wise counsel, and a good answer… for next time. Richard Mourdock has taken a real beating on this blob of toothpaste, but the truth is, something came out (he spoke publicly on behalf of these babies), it’s toothpaste (a wonderful substance), and not some foul ooze that made it’s way out of that tube. It makes me think all the more of him. May God honor him for his adherence to the truth and his fearlessness, if not for his prudence in this instance.

    • Barry York November 1, 2012 at 3:18 pm #

      Amen, Ben, regarding Mr. Mourdock’s courage to stand on principle.

  2. Jeff Kessler November 1, 2012 at 2:42 pm #

    Listen to “products of rape” talk of their life and their praise of Mr. Mourdock.

    • Barry York November 1, 2012 at 3:16 pm #


      Thanks for the link. I posted it above to make it more accessible and because it needs to be heard.

  3. johnrakshith November 3, 2012 at 5:13 am #

    Thank you for this article. It was well thought and articulated. I just have one question. In the last paragraph you say that there is a second victim in the baby that is born. I understand how the woman is the victim; my question is how the baby who is yet unborn could be considered a victim? Please let me know your thoughts.

    Thank you!

    • Barry York November 3, 2012 at 9:43 am #


      That’s an excellent question! Thank you for asking it.

      The unborn baby in a rape is a victim not in the life that he has been granted, but for the circumstances surrounding him at the moment he is conceived. For he enters this life most likely fatherless, as the reminder of the shame of a vile act, as one who is a sudden bodily pressure upon a mother who has already suffered emotional horror, and with his own life immediately threatened by forces who have determined that the manner of his conception disqualifies the existence of his life.

      I believe from the tone of your comment you would agree that rather than calling for the unborn baby’s execution through abortion, society should be surrounding him and his mother with the greatest acts of compassion and care. That’s what our civil leaders should be calling for and working toward, as Mr. Mourdock is. (Note my article was not written to fault his stance but to help in the articulation of it.) To do any less is to fail to honor the Lord who is the God of the fatherless and needy.

      • johnrakshith November 3, 2012 at 10:40 am #

        I agree with you entirely. Thank you for the detailed response. The Lord’s blessings!

  4. idebenone November 9, 2012 at 12:54 am #

    When it comes to abortion, there is no shortage of “What if…?’s.” Just when it seems the injustice of abortion has been firmly established, you’ll hear things like: What if the woman was raped? , What if she can’t afford a child? , or What if the baby is deformed? These questions don’t address the fundamental ethics of abortion, but they do introduce a host of difficult variables. Some people appeal to them earnestly. Many do not. These “hard cases” are often used as a last defense by those who actually believe abortion should be legal no matter what the circumstances. They appeal to these more emotionally-charged circumstances in an attempt to move the focus away from the heart of the issue – which is the humanity of unborn children and the violence of abortion. The best way to expose the fallacy of such claims is to simply broaden the context and apply them to children outside the womb. No matter how you frame it, the difficulty that these circumstances present do not justify the death of an innocent human being.


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